May 16 2019

Ubuntu Life – Ethical Shoes & Accessories Handmade With Love In Kenya.

Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

My name is Zane Wilemon and my spirit animal is a white tiger. I love waking early and making morning tea for my wife. I am passionate about what I get to do every day and am beyond thankful that what I do is a clear reflection of who I am and what I believe about the world. We are all connected and what we wear, what we consume and how we spend our time is a direct reflection of how we honor those connections to others. I am also an Episcopal priest and that happened because I followed my heart to discover where I came from. I’m fortunate to say that I discovered that Source and it’s everywhere inviting us to participate in loving our world, ourselves and one another.

What exactly is Ubuntu Life?

Ubuntu Life is a nonprofit business that uses the power of global commerce to create social impact for mothers and children in Kenya.  We believe the deepest and most permanent way to empower communities is through sustainable enterprises producing high-quality products and experiences. As a non-profit business, we offer our Maker Mums meaningful jobs with above-market wages and benefits, while generating revenue that supports our special needs center.

We are on a path to be financially self-sufficient by 2021.

Today we operate three non-profit enterprises. Café Ubuntu offers visitors the most memorable casual dining experience in the Great Rift Valley, on the road from Nairobi to the Maasai Mara. Our bottled water, the first social-impact water in Kenya, comes from a naturally healthy forest spring. And our shoes and other products are sold internationally and have earned the support of Jimmy Kimmel, Kerri Walsh Jennings, and many others.

What inspired you to start Ubuntu Life?

I was inspired to start Ubuntu Life after buying a one-way ticket to Kenya and living there for over a year.  I was forever changed by the way the local community received me and the simple, deeply spiritual and communal way that most people lived.  This different way of being struck a deep change within me and I wanted to make sure I did something that gave that gift of life back to those who gave it to me.  Ubuntu Life is simply my response.  It’s an outpouring of my friendship with my Co-Founder, Jeremiah Kuria and our collective pursuit to create healing and sustainable impact that empowers others to do the same for their communities.

How did you come up with the name?

We came up with the name Ubuntu Life after I read a magazine article about Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Ubuntu was Tutu’s battle cry during apartheid South Africa.  It’s an African philosophy meaning “interconnectedness” that comes from the Bantu tribe, one of the original five tribes on the continent. Tutu used this word to open the eyes of both white and black South Africans showing them that what we do, how we treat one another, is a direct reflection of how we treat ourselves. When I react to you in hate, I am placing hate within my heart.  Conversely when I respond in love to you, I am placing more love within my heart.  We wanted to create a brand that stood for the way we see the world, that we are all connected and here to help one another along our lifes journey.  We see our products as a means to that end to inspire others through a direct connection to the makers, our Ubuntu Life Maker Mums!

Stay Fit and Healthy

Each purchase helps grow your Ubuntu Kids special needs program; can you tell us about that?

For every purchase of Ubuntu Life products customers not only help empower our Maker Mums, but also empower our special needs kiddos at Ubuntu Kids.

We provide free life-changing therapy to over 70 Ubuntu Kids with conditions like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, severe autism, and others. Basic therapy provided at a young age can have a transformative effect on their lives. Last year we helped 10 children learn to walk, 18 to read, and 49 to communicate effectively for the first time.

A further 276 pediatric neurological patients receive year-round medication and ongoing medical care thanks to our two local pediatricians Ubuntu has on staff and through our quarterly medical camps thanks to the incredible support of our healthcare professionals who contribute their time each year.

Is there a favorite product? 

The safari green Afridrille!  So much blood, sweat and tears went into envisioning this product alongside our partners and our Maker Mums.  It’s a huge leap from making reusable canvas coffee sleeves to a shoe, but we envisioned it, we hustled our asses off and I’m wearing them right now…and my feet couldn’t’ be happier!

What is your favorite part about running Ubuntu Life?

Our team! I love the people I get to wake up and work alongside every day. I often feel like I’m a kid in sandbox playing with my friends and making up stuff that we want to create together.  That’s how we launched the shoe.  That’s also how our Maker Mums started to sew.  It was their idea.  We were playing in the sandbox, coming up with ideas of how to make life better and here we are…creating something the world has never seen before and doing it together.  I love that!

What is your least favorite part about running Ubuntu Life?

Raising money! A growing business, no matter how big or how small, always needs more money to keep growing.  I’m getting better at this every day, but man it was a rough start transitioning from an Episcopal priest into a business owner.

How do you spread the word about your company?

We leverage every channel we have to spread the word.  We host regular events to grow our community, our Tribe is what we like to call it.  We host thousands of locals and international travelers to Café Ubuntu in Kenya as well as lead teams of donors, partners and friends to Kenya each year.  And we’re always hustling to grow our audience via e-commerce sales, social media and wholesale partners. Collaboration is also a key strategy of growing awareness about Ubuntu whether that be our collaborative coffee with Whole Foods Market, our annual Shopathon partnership with (RED) and Jimmy Kimmel or our latest Café Ubuntu Coffee Chocolate collab with Goodio. These are all powerful and effective channels to spread the word, make meaningful connections and create more impact in Kenya.

Do you have any advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

Focus, get up every day ready to drive your idea into reality no matter what and have fun. If you’re not having fun then stop what you’re doing and go create something else or support the creation of someone elses ideas.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been MANY days when I was not having fun, but I was at least loving the people by my side. The important thing is that you strike that balance of clarity of purpose, managing your stress and enjoying the journey along the way.

Do you have a favorite quote or go to saying? 

LOVE. And pay close attention to what is moving away from you versus what is moving towards you.  It is a far better use of energy and time to let go of what is moving away from you and start capitalizing on what is moving towards you.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Only other thing I would add is to make sure you make time to slow down in the hustle. The hustle and the creation is where the rush comes from, but to sustain you need to discover ways to tap into the deeper resources whether that be God for you, or some other higher power. I’ve seen a lot of people burn out, break down or completely crash.  It’s so important to get into that healthy rhythm of hustle and self care.  That’s the key to your staying power and mental clarity.

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